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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St Andrew, Quidenham

Quidenham: beautiful and friendly

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castle-like mighty tower flushwork on the buttresses

    St Andrew, Quidenham
Deposition   Quidenham is a small village to the south of Attleborough, but it is known throughout East Anglia because it is home to two splendid institutions, the Carmelite convent and the Children's Hospice. Both do excellent work, and their friendliness and beauty are either a symptom of Quidenham life, or have rubbed off on it, because St Andrew is also a friendly, beautiful church. Perhaps it is something in the water.

St Andrew's Saxon tower has been augmented in a most elaborate fashion, a tall early Perpendicular bell stage topped off with the drama of a spire. It goes to make the church appear larger than it actually is, particularly if you approach from the south and see the 19th century aisle on this side.

The buttresses on this aisle are worth looking at, because they have flushwork monograms set into them. It is easy to assume that they are Victorian conceits, but I wondered if Mortlock might be right in suggesting that they are genuine medieval features reused from elsewhere. I wondered even if they were perhaps from the base course of a square tower at another church.

There is an aisle, but there is no clerestory, and consequently St Andrew is rather dark inside. However, it is not gloomy, because the windows are filled with richly coloured glass of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those at the east and west ends of the aisle are lighter, creating a space which is less dark than the nave. Around the walls, memorials, as well as several of the windows, remember members of the Keppel family of Quidenham Hall. The war memorial window in the aisle is particularly striking, depicting a WWII airman looking up at a vision of Christ. It made me think of the WB Yeats poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.

The window depicting The Rasing of Lazarus is very fine, rendered in a cartoon style. There is also a good modern window depicting The Summons of Christ. Overseeing all this colour is an austere carved Stuart royal arms above the tower arch.

Perhaps the most moving survival in this beautiful church is a recent one. This is the memorial to Albert Keppel, who died in July 1917 while gallantly leading his company to the attack on an enemy stronghold in Belgium. He was just nineteen years old. The memorial features a gilt mosaic of St George, and above hangs the helmet that he was wearing at the time. By the summer of 1917, the First World War had become a disgusting affair, an industrial process. The fields of Flanders were no longer host to romantic charges into rifle fire, but to tanks, land mines, flame-throwers and poisonous gas. Young Albert must have been just sixteen when the War broke out - he was born the same year as the last veteran of the trenches of the Great War, Harry Patch.

I felt my eyes prick with tears as I thought about how it must have felt for his parents to have lost him in this way. When I was nineteen, my father was just the same age that I am now, so I can imagine what it would have been like for him. No doubt Albert Keppel's mum and dad felt pride that he had died for his country, but then I thought of the long years of grief that remained ahead for them.

I thought about my own son, now thirteen, and what my own grief and anger would be like. You can't think back to the mindset of the First World War, of course; the event, and the times that surrounded it, are beyond imagining. A week or so before I visited Quidenham, I stood with my son within the great Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval in France, and we had looked up at the 75,000 names of those who had no known grave in those gentle, rolling fields of southern Picardy. We found my great-grandfather, and a great-great-uncle. We lost count of the people who shared our surname, by no means a common one. To be honest, I found the whole thing numbing, too enormous for grief. It isn't the large numbers that tear the heart, it is the individuals, and they are almost without number.


Simon Knott, September 2006

chanvel arch banner looking west banner north doorway
looking east Albert Keppel Albert Keppel's helmet royal arms
the Raising of Lazarus (detail) Resurrection Resurrection "I know that I shall meet my death..." 
"follow me" the Raising of Lazarus three Marys at the tomb roll of honour

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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk